That Fluttering of Mute Flies: Reflections on Why Poetry Matters

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"A poem is occurring every moment

         for example

that fluttering of mute flies..."

-Mario Santiago Papasquiaro

As 2013 comes to a close, I want to ask a simple question: Why does poetry matter?

During National Poetry Month this past April, I gave much thought to why I (or anyone), should care about poetry. You might think that a person with a masters degree in the subject, a writer since about age six, and with a literary food blog to her name, has never questioned the purpose of poetry in her life. But you would be wrong.

Most days I spend about an hour commuting home in the late afternoon, which gives me ample time to ponder such questions, and my train of thought goes something like this:

I hope the 101 isn't backed up like it was yesterday.

I'm glad I remembered to put almonds in my purse last night.

What dress will I wear to the New Year’s Eve party? I should really go back to the mall this weekend.

Poetry is a reflection of the soul. It articulates emotions we can't verbalize.

If I have enough energy, I'll bake muffins tonight.

Do I have time to do yoga? Maybe just a couple of stretches.

Why do I blog?

Do people even read poetry anymore? I don't even read that much poetry, and I blog about it!

All writing is about relationships. The relationship between the writer and her subject, the writer and her readers...

I'm hungry.

Poetry is an escape, a truth, an absolute. It's like listening to jazz. Anything can happen.

Why does poetry matter? I've wondered this so much in the past year that I've taken to reading all the arguments I can. Books like Can Poetry Matter? and Beautiful & Pointless make the case for this "endangered species" as Edward Hirsh puts it in How to Read a Poem: and Fall in Love With Poetry

In the end, though, logic cannot win. There is no arguing for poetry, because it’s something to be felt. You need it and crave it, like a primal hunger. You cannot ask why too frequently. Sometimes, yes, I wonder why poetry and not something else. Why not snowboarding or classical music or landscape painting? So the why becomes a what. Not why do I care, but what should I do?

After finishing my academic studies, I found poetry less relevant. I still enjoyed reading it, but with the absence of a practical purpose (like analyzing it for a required paper, or being around other students with the same passion), my relationship with poetry was forced to change, and I didn't know how to cope. It took several years to find my way back. In the mean time, I started writing about food, and now here we are.

Wang Ping said this about the poet Ghassan Zaqtan, who won the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize.  

"What does poetry do? Nothing and everything, like air, water, soil, like birds, fish, trees, like love, spirit, our daily words … It lives with us, in and outside us, everywhere, all the time, and yet, we are too often oblivious of this gift. It’s a poet’s job to bring this gift out and back, this gift that makes us human again." -Wang Ping

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This quote made me sit up a little bit straighter, because it articulates so well the role poetry plays in life. It's not a question of whether or not poetry exists or if it does or doesn’t matter, but how we respond to the daily reminders of its presence. Poetry is like the ocean, a river, a cluster of redwood trees, existing whether we see them or not, marvel at them or not. Sometimes poetry catches us in a quiet moment, and we remember how small we are. Sometimes we sputter a line or two, form it on the page days later. Sometimes we snap a photograph, find a wall to hang it on.

Poetry is just another way to say we are here, we saw this, we felt that.  

Poetry is in everything. From “that fluttering of mute flies,” to a bowl of flour and water, waiting on the counter to become bread, the work of your hands. Poetry is living and breathing, part of all we see, if we choose to see it and invite it in. 

In 2014, let’s resolve to listen close, to see beauty, to find the poetry in the every day. It’s waiting in the kitchen, in the air, and in the places we will travel. Poetry is already here, we know that. The question is, will we listen?

I’m curious: I know you’re out there, and that you cook and read and share a certain kinship with the space. I’d love to know why poetry matters to you. Please share your comments below!